Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SP Enrile and Speaker Belmonte’s order for Escudero and Tupas to boycott JBC hearings could encourage P-Noy to appoint new CJ without waiting for JBC list. Manila Times daringly raises questions about Carpio’s ties to his old law firm and moral fitness for CJ job.

I’m very disappointed in the recent order of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to their respective representatives in the Judicial and Bar Council to boycott participation in the JBC’s hearings on various nominees to the Supreme Court’s CJ post.  Enrile’s and Belmonte’s joint order was apparently in protest of the SC’s decision to recognize only one vote from the entire Congress in the JBC’s impending voting on its recommendations to the President for the CJ post. 

This decision by the two top Congress leaders, backed up by other chamber leaders, only serves to complicate a situation already fraught with unusual---even emergency---conditions. These include the sudden vacancy at the SC’s helm owing to CJ Renato Corona’s impeachment and ouster by the Senate trial court, and the resulting absence of the constitutionally designated chair of the JBC, the CJ.  Enrile questions, for instance, whether   having an acting JBC chair---in this case SC Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta--is valid. (At this point I'm so tempted to say, Ikaw kasi, Mr. Enrile, why did you engineer CJ Corona's ouster despite the prosecution's bunglings?).  


The other members of the JBC have been quoted as saying that the boycott by Congress will not affect its task of making that short-list of CJ nominees to be submitted to the President. But it is also totally possible that the current mess in the JBC COULD ENCOURAGE President Aquino to appoint a CJ without waiting for that short-list, as the Constitution provides.  

In reality this may be something P-Noy really wants to do (talk is that his choice for CJ is really Justice Secretary Leila de Lima). But we all know that it’s not healthy to depart from constitutional processes, given P-Noy’s dictatorial tendencies.

Thus, it's lamentable that SP Enrile and Speaker Belmonte have acted like SPOILED BRATS who lost their candy-sticks. Their  saner action on the JBC issue should have been to live with this oversight in the Constitution---so that it could be corrected in a future cha-cha effort, as they  want to do anyway. Pero wag ibitin ang trabaho ng JBC.


What am I talking about? You readers might ask. 

Former Solicitor-General Francisco Chavez filed a motion in the SC protesting the presence of Sen. Francis Escudero and Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. in the JBC. Chavez maintains---and many lawyers agree with him---that this practice of having two representatives of Congress in the JBC---a practice prevalent over the years since the Constitution was enacted in 1987---violates its provision for a SINGLE VOTE of Congress in that body. 

Not surprisingly, the SC recently upheld Chavez and in effect ordered Congress to choose only one--- Escudero or Tupas---- in the JBC.

Enrile and Belmonte balked at the SC decision. This appears to be an indication of the arrogance of Congress, which, in turn, is undoubtedly is a repercussion of the overwhelming success of Corona’s impeachment, despite the infirm process it went through. This apparently made both chambers of Congress swell-headed with power.


Congress leaders are now pressing the SC to make a final decision on this JBC vote issue, even as the boycott by Escudero and Tupas stands. They argue that the framers of the Constitution had originally reckoned with creating only a unicameral legislature, but that when two chambers emerged in the end, the framers failed to correct this single-vote provision for the bicameral legislature in the JBC.

I doubt, however, if the SC would buckle down from its single-vote stand on Congress, for that is what the Constitution says. The SC can only interpreted its provisions. Until this JBC oversight is corrected or amended this provision stands.

Distinguished lawyer Jose Aguila Grapilon, who headed the Integrated Bar of the Philippines from 1997-1999, has defended the SC’s position of one vote only for the entire Congress, terming its demand for two votes  “Absolutely ridiculous, totally incomprehensible and (il)logical!” Grapilon joins his lawyer friends who argue that “there is no ambiguity in the constitutional provisions that all the components of the membership of the (JBC) are limited to only one representative from each sector.”

Pray tell, how can all such illogical thinking emanate from Congress, kung hindi ito power-drunk?


Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and his supporters are making a hard pitch for the appointment of an "insider" to the CJ post. Obviously Justice Carpio is thinking of himself, as he has been known to aspire for this post since CJ Rey Puno retired. But why is it that lawyers, almost to a man, roll their eyes to heaven when the name of this nominee, who enjoys the reputation of being one of the most brilliant jurists, is mentioned as possible next CJ?

For two decades now talk has buzzed in the legal community and in coffee shops about the alleged smart manipulations and intense power play the firm Carpio founded, originally known as the “CVC Law” and nowadays referred to as “The Firm,” has been resorting to. A prominent lawyer I spoke to recently, when queried on the chances of Carpio to be appointed, said, “Pwede pa, he and his cohorts have been manipulating appointments to the judiciary for three presidencies already!  Tama na, sobra na, husto na.” 


To be sure, any reference these days to “The Firm” is invoked with a mixture of AWE (at its reported over P6 billion billings yearly, its swanky building in Global City and the fabled lifestyle of its partners) and FEAR of its political power and clout. The Manila Times, however, startled the legal community last July 24, a day after P-Noy's SONA, when it raised all the dark queries about this law firm that previously were only whispered about.

The Times editorial questioned the appointments to various positions in the judiciary---from fiscals and other lower-echelon personnel all the way to judges and justices---that "The Firm" allegedly extracted from various presidents in an attempt to control this branch of government.  It queried about loyalties supposedly squeezed by the firm from these judicial appointments. It also questioned Carpio’s continuing ties with his old firm, which suggested alleged improprieties he committed in the bench, as well as his moral fitness for the CJ post. 


Asserted the Times editorial: "The new (CJ) must not only be a man (or woman) of integrity guided by the highest sense of morality and patriotism. He or she must also be an inspiring figure and a decisive chief executive officer who has the personal skills to reform the entire Philippine judiciary and rid it of scalawag justices, judges and clerks. Anyone who has been a protagonist in destructive partisan politics and a contributor to creating the sorry state of the judiciary today must be screened out at once."

In the Times' mind, "front-runner" Justice Carpio, "more than any other applicant...appears to have contributed the most to creating the dire state of our judiciary." Hence, it asserts, he cannot be the SC's knight in shining armor.


In typical Pinoy fashion, however, the JBC failed to confront Justice Carpio with that Manila Times editorial in his interview last Thursday. Left hanging, therefore, were answers to many disturbing questions raised about the power-driven firm he founded as well as his personal conduct in the SC.

Had such an editorial been raised about a judiciary appointee pending before the US Congress' Commission on Appointments, all the allegations would have been brought out in the open, and US senators and representatives would have confronted the appointee with them over live TV. 

One must commend Dante Ang and the Manila Times for their courage in raising these issues against perhaps the most powerful figure now in the SC---thus continuing the fearless tradition started by Don Chino Roces in the martial law regime.

(Next: SC Associate Justice and CJ nominee Roberto Abad cites his reforms in the judiciary, beginning with chairing the committee that restructured the recent bar exams, in his speech before the IBP).

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